Studio Velo's Eastern Sierra Adventure: 'An Orgy of Vert Lust'

I finally got the hall pass from my family to go on a cycling trip--the 4 day Sierras trip put on by Studio Velo.  It is based out of Bishop, and tackles the brutal climbs of the Eastern Sierras, which are some of the most fearsome on the planet.

This trip is basically an orgy of vert lust.  On the menu are 4 of the 5 hardest climbs in California, and a couple more in the top 10 just for good measure.  And yet, you don't have to be a mountain goat to enjoy the riding.  The trip is fully SAGed, meaning Chef Ritchie and the van are always nearby to provide food, water, or a lift to the top.

The scenery in the Owens Valley is desolate and spectacular.  This is the (very) high desert, and this trip we had the added attraction of snow at the higher elevations from a recent storm.


I am a good climber for a big guy.  Of course, a hippo is a fabulous dancer for a large water dwelling mammal, but they don't tend to do well on Dancing With The Stars.  There are limitations.  Tackling HC climbs every day of the trip is a good way to find them.

Day 1
Dawn in Fairfield


We left Mill Valley at 6am to drive to Bishop.  We stopped for lunch at the Mobil in Lee Vining, which happens to feature an outstanding restaurant.  By 330pm we were settled into our rooms in Bishop and ready to tackle the weekend's appetizer--the climb up to South Lake.

The first day is a chance to warm up the legs and see who the players are.  Our group had a range of abilities but consistent enthusiasm.  Based on the climb to South Lake, I was going to be in trouble, as there was some aggressive climbing going on.

This was our introduction to big gradients--both altitude and temperature.  Just getting from the valley floor to the base of the mountains proper is always a long climb in and of itself in the Owens Valley.  Once you get to the mountain, the real fun begins.  We climbed steadily for more than 4,000 feet before it started to get really cold and a bit dark.  I then realized why Bill and Chas, the cagey  veterans, were hauling packs up this climb.

They had lots of warm clothing and lights.  I turned around when I started to lose feeling my fingers--never a good sign when you are climbing.  I had a vest and arm warmers, but those were woefully inadequate for the descent, and I was very cold for the first 10 minutes.  Of course, descending at 40+ mph, you get back down to the warm zone pretty quickly, but I still did not regain full feeling in my fingers until after my shower.

The light was amazing on the way down, and there were quite a few photographers out to capture it.  They must have heard the Studio Velo boys were in town.

The view from the hotel on the first night.

We had dinner at a local restaurant, but not before Uncle Colin regaled us with stories from the back of the peloton (aw...snap!).

Bill seemed keenly interested.


Day 2

Yesterday's teaser left a bit of a mark on my legs.  Today we rolled out from Bishop to the South, to take on White Mountain and Death Valley Road.  White Mountain is a beast.  It climbs 6,204 feet over 20 miles.
Some hot chick must have just rolled by.

I started slowly, riding with Scott, chasing down the rabbits who had zoomed away with enthusiasm at the start of the climb.  By an hour into the climb, the order of the day had been established.  Myself, Scott, and trip revelation Brian--a quiet vegan who never seems to be working hard, but goes uphill like greased tofu.

After another hour, Scott attacked.  I hung on for a while before deciding that day 2 was not the time to go deep into the pain cave.  We climbed up into the snow at over 10,000 feet, to finish after 2:30 of climbing.  Ouch.
Okay, which one is the dancing hippo?


The metrics from Training Peaks and Strava fail to capture how tough it was.   Climbing a 9% pitch from 9,000 feet to 10,000 feet is not the same as doing it at sea level.
Bill and Chas stick it to the less mature members of the riding party.

We dropped back down to around 8,000 feet for lunch.




Almost everyone made it up the climb.  Luke was having some altitude sickness,  and had thrown up several times on the climb.  He gets the "Boot and Rally" award for continuing on almost until the lunch stop.

Not a bad view.
The descent was the fastest of the trip, with steep grades and mostly smooth roads.  50mph+ was the order of the day.  Of course, I forgot to put on the GoPro.
Why yes, I did descend like an out of control truck.

Death Valley Road was a mere digestif after White Mountain, climbing 4,000 feet in 14 miles.  It was an amazingly steady climb.  Almost always 6% for the first half, and steadily 7% for the second half.


We ran across this little fellow about halfway up.  Not sure if Stan's would seal a real snakebite, we moved on.
We are 10k of vert into the day at this point, and Bill is still going strong.  Yes, folks, 62 years old and he will rip your legs off.  Bill is happiest when pointed upwards.


We got back down right as the light was getting awesome again, so I had to take a glamour pic.  The bikes hanging on the front cost more than the van.

When we got back, Ritchie whipped up a feast out of the pathetic hotel kitchen.  As far as I know, the only thing even approaching a cooking appliance was the coffee maker.

Dinner was a time to share the adventures of the day, and to try to convince others that you could have gone faster, but you were just being social.

to be continued......

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